In Alaska, Proof that Ballot Measures Can Drive Turnout

People have debated for years whether controversial ballot measures can affect who shows up to vote. In Alaska yesterday, a measure did just that -- and may have ended the career of a U.S. senator.
by | August 25, 2010

I'm as transfixed as everyone else by the Republican Senate primary in Alaska. But, I wanted to note one factor in Joe Miller's shocking showing against Sen. Lisa Murkowski that hasn't gotten enough attention: a measure on the ballot to require parental notification for abortion.

Alaska Democratic blogger Mudflats made the case today:

In the final 48 hours, a popular local radio host interviewed Miller and framed Murkowski as a “rabid abortionist.” This in itself would have riled up the Christian conservative base, but on top of that there was an added bit of ballot bait this time around. Ballot Measure 2 stated that doctors of any girl 17 years of age or younger needed to notify her parents if she sought to have an abortion, or face felony charges. Like red meat to the wolves, Ballot Measure 2 brought out the Right to Life crowd in force. Churches devoted entire services on the Sunday before primary day to talking about why congregants should support Measure 2. Signs promoting “Alaskans for Parental Notification” showed up in their lobbies.

The beneficiaries of the voters who came out to support Measure 2 were Miller, Sean Parnell and Mead Treadwell. Parnell was Palin’s Lt. Governor who assumed the seat after she resigned. Treadwell, the Lt. Governor nominee was one of the top donors to Yes on 2, with credit on the website. All three men appear to have won their respective slots on the party ticket – Parnell with the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Treadwell as the GOP’s Lt. Governor candidate, and Miller officially once the absentee ballots are counted. As a measure of the issue’s ability to bring out the vote, there were 10,000 votes cast just for the ballot measure alone, with no senate candidate even selected. The ones who chose a senatorial candidate while they were there anyway, presumably also numbered in the thousands.

I remain skeptical that ballot measures can appreciably affect turnout in presidential elections. If you don't care who is president, how likely are you to care about any other political issue? But, in a relatively sleepy August primary it makes perfect sense that a hot-button ballot measure could draw people to the polls.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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